We listen to a lot of songs about broken hearts, read books about complicated love relationships and enjoy romantic comedies. But what does it really mean to ‘love’? And is there a clear definition of love? Univers asked Tila Pronk, assistant professor of social psychology and love researcher and spoke to three students about their love lives: one polyamorous, the other monogamous and a doubter.
Love comes in all kinds of scents and colors and is a popular topic of conversation. Also among young people. But how do we love in 2022? A recent survey by EenVandaag shows that 42 percent of Dutch youth believe that people are monogamous (exclusive) by nature, 39 percent do not believe. Almost a quarter think that an open relationship suits them, where you can kiss, date or have sex with someone other than your permanent partner. In addition, thirteen percent of young people state that they are polyamorous: they can be romantic and intimate with several partners at the same time.
How do students from Tilburg view different forms of relationships and love? Speakers: Tila Pronk, Wietske Petrişor, Judith Zijdenbos and Sam de Smet
Tila Pronk, assistant professor in social psychology and love researcher
“Different forms of love such as monogamy, polyamory and an open relationship are at all times. Yet speaking openly about this has always been taboo. Today it is different. In recent years, the topic has been taken out of the taboo atmosphere. More is being talked about and written about in the general media. It is also striking that many young people no longer want to think in boxes. For example, they increasingly question ideas such as ‘typically masculine’ or ‘typically feminine’. This social development also affects the way young people define their relationships: they are less obviously monogamous. They feel more free to figure out who they want to be and how they want to love.
“People in a monogamous relationship are just as happy as people in a polyamorous relationship”
“Science has long ignored non-monogamous relationships. Today, scientists are more aware of it and try to investigate the quality of these relationships. There are quite a few prejudices about non-monogamous relationships. For example, people think that you only fall in love in another if your current relationship is not right.What think?This is complete nonsense!
“Research shows that there is no difference in quality: people in a monogamous relationship are just as happy as people in a polyamorous relationship. However, it is very important that the relationship is transparent and partners communicate clearly with each other. Not knowing what your partner is doing can lead to insecurity and jealousy. Ultimately, clear agreements and communication skills are the best strategy to keep a relationship healthy and sustainable.”
Wietske Petrişor, philosophy student and polyamorous oriented
“For me, love lies in many things, and when I describe it, I lack it by definition. I can feel love for people, moments, ideas and nature. Love to me is a personal, intimate and unique experience that I share with another. I don’t want this experience to be affected by social structures and expectations.
“Sincere connections and intimacy are very important to me. It is a condition of a good love for me. In addition, clear communication is essential. For example, I do not want to burn bridges and break friendships because my beloved is jealous. This is an absolute limit for me. Of course, the reverse is also true. As long as my partner and I keep communicating to each other that our relationship is good, we don’t question our love. By the way, I don’t condemn jealousy. I just don’t want, that feeling should guide decisions we make about our relationship.I’d rather talk about it so we can come to an agreement that we both feel comfortable with.
“I am currently dating two people. I feel very clearly that they both have a completely different but very positive effect on my life”
“I experience every day that this way of loving is not the standard. I had a valuable conversation with my grandmother about this. I told her that I don’t think of love traditionally and that I can love several people at the same time in a romantic and committed way. I asked her what I should do: adapt or choose my own path? Then she said something that has stuck with me immensely: “Your polyamorous experiences are still new to society. He still has to get used to the idea that there are other kinds of love. It also took a while for homosexuality and gender identity to become more accepted. It’s a process, but that doesn’t mean you have to conform. Your love can be there.’ That insight gave me confidence.
“Monogamy is still the norm. It seems as if there is a handbook that describes exactly how citizens should behave according to monogamous norms and values. It doesn’t work for me; I’m someone who likes to find out on my own hand, without me picking up that manual and behaving like it.
“I am currently dating two people. I feel very clearly that they both have a completely different but very positive effect on my life. I find that very valuable. This does not mean that polyamory is the best choice for everyone. But if people get the chance to find out for themselves, it gives them more space to discover what kind of love suits them best.”
Judith Zijdenbos, communication student and convinced monogamist
“It strikes me that people often speak of love with praise. I think that’s strange, because in my eyes it’s not all roses and moonlight. Love also brings out the worst sides in people. Of course, statements like ‘love is blind’ or ‘love is a strange disease’ are there for a reason. When I look around, I see many people struggling with jealousy. In addition, many are trapped in a toxic relationship. And then there are those people who are obsessed with the person they ‘love’. Love is often misinterpreted in my opinion. Just look at great literary masterpieces: the love between Romeo and Juliet is not romantic and fairy-tale. Isn’t it a scary idea that you are dying of love? What do people like about it? I think it’s quite tragic.
“Love, of course, also has a very beautiful side. It sometimes feels very intense and familiar. Because of this, the small moments take on a lot of meaning. My boyfriend and I are in a monogamous relationship and I am very happy. That doesn’t mean we’re always on top of each other’s lips. I think it is important that we do not merge into one couple, but remain two independent individuals. We always try to encourage each other and bring out the best in each other. Sometimes it also means that you have to ignore yourself so that the other person has more room to develop.
“I think it’s important that we don’t merge into one couple, but remain two independent individuals”
“The reason we’re in a monogamous relationship has nothing to do with an aversion to polyamorous relationships. I know a lot of people who are polyamorous and I see it working too. But I can’t see myself loving more than one person at the same time right now.The relationship with my girlfriend is satisfactory enough.
“In addition, I want to have children, and I don’t think I can reconcile this vision of the future with polyamory. It feels more stable to share my desire to have children with one partner. I’m still a little traditional about this. By the way, I don’t mean to say that polyamorous people shouldn’t have children. I just don’t know of any polyamorous couples with children that I could use as an example. This makes a monogamous relationship feel a bit like the ‘safe way’. The fact that I don’t feel the need to share my life with others at the moment also helps, of course.”
Sam de Smet, third year student and doubts about love
“Love to me is something ‘warm’ to give away. It’s about caring for each other and taking care of each other. An ultimate feeling of protection. But in romantic love there is a core of doubt for me; then suddenly I don’t know, how to define it so easily anymore. It has everything to do with my confidence. When something becomes “romantic” I can suddenly start doubting if I am enough. All this doubt and insecurity keeps me from feeling truly monogamous or polyamorous.
“I have a lot of love to give and I can love people a lot. Sometimes almost too much for one person. I really look up to polyamorous people. I feel they are generous in many ways. I like their positive attitude towards life. I think it’s great to be so free and live in the moment. Additionally, I admire their communication skills; to an outsider, it appears that they experience no jealousy and have no secrets. That transparency suits me. I also want to carry life so ‘lightly’. But wanting and being able are two different things.
“It’s almost religious: what’s the point of life if that love isn’t there?”
Sam de Smith
“In a way, monogamy suits me too. There is an intimate desire in me to meet a soul mate. I really want to belong to one person and experience a relationship in terms of friendship, orientation and intimacy. But there is immediately another side of it, which I find less beautiful; love ‘to have’. I find the possessive side less charming. It remains a quest to get it clear to myself in my head.
“There is no one in my area who has a relationship that I would like to take as an example. In my opinion, all these conditions are not sustainable. But even if I don’t see any worthy relationships in my environment, I believe that my ideal love exists. It’s almost religious: what’s the point of life if that love isn’t there?”